The breed wasn’t exactly thriving before 2018. But thanks to widespread anti-Donald Trump backlash from the very swing voters who sent them to Washington in the first place, it looks like suburban, moderate Republican Congress members may finally be facing extinction after November’s midterm elections.
Consider Mike Coffman. A former businessman and retired Army soldier and Marine Corps officer, Coffman has repeatedly found a way to win reelection in Colorado’s Sixth Congressional District — a former bastion of suburban Republicanism east of Denver that has veered leftward in recent years due to a rising immigrant population, an influx of cosmopolitan transplants and a 2012 redistricting that included Aurora within its boundaries. In 2012, voters there picked Barack Obama for president; in 2014, they chose Democrat John Hickenlooper for governor; and in 2016, they voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of nearly 10 percentage points.
Yet Coffman — who has learned Spanish, criticized Donald Trump and been ranked the 12th most bipartisan member of the House — won every time.
This year, however, may be different. Coffman’s opponent is top Democratic recruit Jason Crow, an attorney and a former Army Ranger who advised Obama and Hickenlooper on veterans’ issues. Crow has not only matched Coffman’s fundraising dollar for dollar, raking in more than $2 million through the second quarter of 2018; he also leads the incumbent in the polls — most recently by 11 percentage points, according to Siena College and the New York Times. Even Coffman’s internal surveys show Crow ahead (albeit by a much smaller margin).
As a result, the nonpartisan prognosticators at the Cook Political Report, Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball all say the race now “leans” or “tilts” Democratic, and the number crunchers at FiveThirtyEight give Crow an 81.4 percent chance of victory.
Meanwhile, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the super-PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, announced late last week that it was canceling $1 million of TV airtime reserved on the candidate’s behalf — a sign that even Coffman’s supporters are losing hope.
Coffman is hardly the only Republican in that position. Attempting triage, Ryan’s super-PAC also pulled out of Rep. Mike Bishop’s district between Lansing and Detroit last week, while the National Republican Congressional Committee withdrew from Rep. Kevin Yoder’s reelection race in the Kansas City suburbs and the Pittsburgh-area contest between newly minted Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb and Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus.
A pattern is emerging here. Look at the various indices that measurebipartisanship or moderation among members of the House, and you’ll notice the same names keep popping up on the GOP side of the aisle.
A lot of them chose to retire earlier this cycle: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida; Dave Reichert of Washington state; Ed Royce of California; Charlie Dent, Ryan Costello and Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania; and Rodney Frelinghuysen and Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey.